Merle Temple - A God Fearing Crime Fighter - and now writer

Merle Temple - A God Fearing Crime Fighter - and now writer
by Mark H. Stowers, Clarion Ledger

Good Mornin’! Good Mornin’!

It was, no doubt, from God. A gust of wind that changed the course of a less than average discus thrower in a conference championship track meet. He wasn’t relied upon to win his event, just place high enough for a few points while the real athletes did their job on the track with sprints and hurdles and mile runs. Well, that didn’t pan out like it was supposed to have. There was the senior, not so big in stature, with the weight of his teams on his shoulders.

“I didn’t have a chance. Their arms were as big around as my chest. We had several mishaps that day and should have had it wrapped up by the time it came to the discus event but somebody pulled a muscle, somebody hit a hurdle who had never hit a hurdle before so I knew the pressure was on me. I knew I didn’t have a chance.”

But God did.

The officials set up where they thought the puny little discus thrower should hit and everyone waited for the inevitable – loss.

“So I wound up and threw the discus and it was the best throw I ever had but it started to fall and fall short.”

But God was waiting.

“Then suddenly there was this wind from nowhere on this cloudless, windless day. That wind blew down in the stadium and just blew everything up. It actually stopped the discus in mid air.”

Sound familiar State fans? (hint – 1983 Egg Bowl)

“And then miraculously with Divine Intervention, that discus began to not only start falling but began to sailing further out. Everybody was just stunned. It went over the heads of the guys that mark the discus and they were chasing it. That throw gave us enough points to win the conference championship. When I turned around everybody in the whole place was looking at me like ‘who are you and what just happened?’”

That was 1966 and it would not be the last time that Merle Temple had Divine Intervention in his life.

“God had his hand on me. I knew he did, all my life. I didn’t understand it and it scared me. The church I was raised in was a good church but they didn’t explain what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ. I was a corporate, nominal Christian but He intervened time and again,” Temple said.

The country boy from just outside of Tupelo close to Nettleton where he went to high school would leave the country and head for the big city – Washington D.C. He got a job with the FBI as a fingerprint technician. He even got to meet J. Edgar Hoover – a feat that very few agents ever attained. But he knew that he needed to get to college and Ole Miss was his destination.

While there, Temple would work odd jobs – horrible jobs – to stay in school. He dug ditches, he built lawn mowers and other hard labor jobs as he pursued his education. With a degree in Criminal Justice and later a Masters, Temple knew he wanted some kind of job fighting crime. At the time, President Nixon was gearing up his war on drugs and states revved up their own participation. Temple took a job with the newly formed Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. He would need God more than ever in the 1970s.

Remember all those Walking Tall movies and Buford Pusser tangling with the Dixie Mafia, crooked cops and joints? Pusser tangled with them, got a movie but eventually lost his life, allegedly, to the bad guys. Temple tangled with them as well but as an undercover agent.

These days, we have plenty of cop shows such as Graceland that depict FBI undercover along with DEA and Border Patrol. Each one with a bevy of high-tech toys and backup. Not so in the ’70s. Temple was undercover – alone. With no real technology to keep tabs on him. Just his brains, his physical reaction skills and his God.

“I was held hostage in 1972 in Tylertown with guys who were going to kill me and take my money. We worked solo undercover back then. I just knew I was going to die and then God started to show me images from my subconscious,” he said.

One of those “life flashing before you” type of situations where you settle up with your maker. But God wasn’t ready to settle up just yet. He had more in store for the country boy discus thrower.

“I said a lot of prayers that night and He delivered me,” Temple said.

You’d think that might be enough to request a transfer to a nice desk job close to a beach somewhere. No, Temple walked back into the fire. He knew right from wrong and situations were black and white, there was no grey area to contemplate – yet.

One day he was about to leave his office and go help with a situation in the making. He had his monitoring equipment and as he got into his car, God met him again.

“I cranked up and this presence just filled up my car,” he said. “It told me to go back and get the bullet proof vests. It scared me to death. I thought I was losing my mind.”

Vests in the 70s were “Second Chance” heavy nylon and could stop maybe a .38 caliber. But he decided the situation wasn’t that dangerous and besides the vests were bulky and hard to conceal. He put his hand back on the gearshift.

“Then swoosh, it came back again and it penetrated all of my senses – inside of me and outside of me. I was one with the Holy Spirit and it told me again, ‘It was not optional. Go back and get the vests’.”

He listened, got the vests and the not-so-dangerous situation he would find out, really was. He and his team walked into an ambush.

“A sniper opened fire on us and it was a pitch gun battle and we came up on it in the crossfire.”

Good guys and bad guys were both shot, Temple escaped without injury but later was in the hospital to arrest the perpetrators and visiting with doctors about one of his injured men.

“The doctor said, ‘look here, Merle. One round passed between his leg and hit his scrotum another one sliced through his arm but the one that hit him in the chest penetrated his vest but the vest took some of the punch out of it and deflected it. So it went in behind his right breast and scooted around the barrel of his rib cage and popped out behind his left breast.’ He said, ‘Merle, if he hadn’t been wearing that vest the bullet would have taken out his heart and lungs and he’d been dead before he hit the ground.’ I still get chill bumps when I tell that story today, 37 years later because I knew that God had intervened dramatically that day. I never told the agents why that day they had to wear their vests when they didn’t want to.”

Temple went on to tangle with the Dixie Mafia and hostile joints and was even set up to be assassinated at the Horn Lake exit off of I-55 but his God and quick thinking got him out of that situation as well. The man lived through most of the 70s intact. But the hard divide between right and wrong was dissolving. Situations that were clearly black and white became a cloudy shade of grey. He battled crime and those who were supposed to be wearing white hats along side him. But he eventually left the life of the MBN and stepped into working for Bell Telephone in Georgia in public relations and marketing. His corporate work prepared him for later when he would help run and plan political campaigns in the south. He’s met Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and plenty more high up politicians and powerful individuals.

After working in crime fighting, public relations and the political arena, he retired to his North Mississippi home. These days the 65-year-old living legend is visiting bookstores – signing his own book. With so many real-life stories in his past, he started to outline a fictional book based on his experiences. Then he walked away from it. But he came back, adding more content and walked away again. Then he whittled a bit and the characters started to jump off the page, they came to life, they mesmerized the few folks he showed them to. So he dug in, again, and finished the first of a planned trilogy – A Ghostly Shade of Pale. It hit the book market in May and has gotten rave reviews from readers on Amazon and Good Reads.

And he stuck to his literary guns while writing. People told him to spice up the language and add some “neon” or vulgarity. He refused. Folks told him to leave out the God stuff. He wasn’t about to. The book has been flying off the shelves of Tupelo area bookstores and through Amazon and his own website,

It’s such a good read that Hollywood has its ears perked up. Jim Clemente, a former FBI agent himself and now a writer/advisor/producer of the hit TV show, Criminal Minds is pitching the book to movie producers and is looking for a screenwriter to adapt it for the big screen. Temple will be on a fact-finding mission to the West Coast soon to meet and greet Hollywood types interested in his biographical “Michael Parker” lead character.

And he’s been on radio “from Alaska to Orlando” and has been the subject of several newspaper articles. So the press is just beginning to jump on board to something that’s about to get as hot as a drug deal gone bad with automatic weapons and kilos of cocaine flying around.

The book may be fiction but its writer is not. He’s lived the life and survived it – with his faith intact

“It’s only by the grace of God that so many of us make it through that.”

Amazing what a big rush of wind can do to set the course of your life when you’re a skinny little high school discus thrower. It might just pick you up and fly you through some life-threatening situations – over and over again…

Have you read the book yet? Do you know Merle? I’d always ‘preciate your comments here or over at Facebook or you can tweet me @markhstowers….see yah next week!